Five fun things to do in Seoul

I was talking to my friends about my life in Seoul. Our New Delhi cab driver suddenly became excited; he was flying to there the day after! In return, I spend the rest of the drive about the things to do in this marvelous city. He was so grateful for the info that he didn’t want any money for our 15 dollar taxi ride. Since another friend is going to Seoul this week, I’ve decided to list and share a few recommendations:

  1. Start by having a beer in the 63 floor building:
    63 floor building is quite an old skyscraper, displayed on the box of Simcity 2000. You can get quite a spectacular view on the city (from south side to center). Many may argue that Namsan is a better view, but you have to pay to get in, instead for a cold beer. The best part is that a 1.5 dollar cruise leaves at the foot of the building.

Screen shot 2009-11-22 at 1.51.42 PM

2. Visit a palace, like Gyeongbok for example, for culture, Amazing to see the historic culture while you are in the middle of the city! Especially beautiful in the fall.

3. Jimjilbang in Dongdaemun: Visit Cerestar, close to Dongdaemun or better, the 6 story high dragon hill spa, for about 5 dollar you can experience traditional korean spa. You can sleep here for the night (public place, on the floor floor) Imagine spending a day here in your pajamas doing fun stuff like watching movies, swimming, eating and sweating in the sauna.

4. Shopping in Myongdong: If you like shopping, Myongdong is the place. The KRW is climbing again but Korea is great shopping for low prices. If you don’t like it (like me), stay away as far as possible, very very busy.


5. Shopping you can do everywhere, Korea is about the food. Go to different places throughout the city, including
eating BBQ fish + wasabi, called: sengsan kui (sengsan meaning fish, kui mening BBQ) Eat some Korean BBQ (ofcourse) I prefer Samgyeopsal, either beef of pork. And another recommendation is to go to “all you can eat” fish houses: Ask the tourist office about these unlimited fish houses, there are a number and you can pick the fishes from the aquarium and they get prepared. Also, you can try live (living) squid here!


Eating bacon in Daejeon

By XKCD when I return to Korea, the comic graph by Randall Munroe pops into my head. Who knows if bacon is really that bad, but I have a feeling that I should not eat it too often. I never really liked bacon, until I ate it in Korea. While living there, I had to compensate the barbeques with a lot of running, leaving little time to feast on this pork/alcoholic delights on a daily basis. Can say a lot about how great the country is, but end of line in terms of food; Koreans just love bacon, where else do families give each other “spam giftsets” for thanksgiving? I spent last weekend in South Korea and just had to give in to eating some Samgyeopsal (삼겹살) again. As sophisticated as it gets, this was the best barbecue I had all summer! 70% of the Koreans like this particular dish so much, that they eat it every week. Just remember what Miss Piggy said: “never eat more then you can lift”!

ING Life Korea goodbye party

Yesterday night: Friends, a barbecue and the proper amount of soju on the 24th floor of the Ramada hotel, looking over the ING building and the famous landmark of Seoul, the Namsan tower. What a nice goodbye party! Besides the ridiculous hat you guys made me wear all night, I want to thank everybody for their kindness, presents and fun. Because of you, I’m looking back at a nice year in Korea and the success at ING. Looking back, I am convinced that INGLK is a great place to work, the environment is engaging and allows pro-active employees to reach high and achieve a successful career. I am looking forward to the following months – for obvious reasons, but am sad to leave my colleagues behind at the same time.

Things that I learned last night:

  • I suck at jumping a rope
  • Germans are generally bad with the hoolahoop
  • The CMO of ING can control the fluorestic building’s sign with his mobile, everyday the guard climb the roof at 8PM to do a little dance underneath the lion.

The dreamteam, excluding one member

Long speeches

The chef preparing Sushi + BBQ

The ING chef

MBC Marathon – the results are in!

Those happy faces are me and my collegues, Frank-Jan, Zdenek, Marten and Arjan from ING – just – before we started running our (half) marathon. Perhaps we were even happier when we finished – it would have been better, or at least more fair to share a before / after picture I suppose.

Together with Suna us ‘westerners’ participated in a Korean marathon. The 15.000 participants made me wonder why I haven’t actually see people train on the streets of Seoul more often. I always thought the latter of Koreans preferred hiking over running, perhaps I was wrong; Most participants seemed to know what they were doing.

Naively about the consequence, I agreed to undertake this 21.0975 km long challange in early 2009 – This tenderfoot aimed to finish his first ‘professional’ race within 2 hours, or at least… to finish at all. To do so, I decided to eat more healthy food (less burgers, more fish) and I stopped drinking coffee completely, but more importantly I undertook a ‘special’ training programme: A day to day running schedule to get in shape for half a marathon, downloaded from the Internet. In a timespan of 80 days, I ran a total of 360 km in preperation, usually during lunch breaks. The amounts increased until I ran 20km every Sunday, rest on Mondays and Saturdays, and maintaining with about 8 ~ 10 Km during the remaining days of the week. I guess that the people at the gym know my name by now.

I wanted to be prepared because of our charity run. Just weeks before the race, we decided to raise sponsors and donate the money to Unicef. My office reacted very positively, perhaps too good! The common awareness of my collegues pointed out that I shouldn’t let them down.

I aimed to have fun, and accelerate my pace at the end of the race. It worked, I finished at 1 hour and 44 minutes, my new (and first) record. As you can see on the graph, the start of the race I slowed down, mainly due to the vast amount of people running before me on the street, creating a funnel effect. Later, I could accelerate due to the latitude and goal in sight. I raised 1.286.714 KRW for Unicef in total we raised a stunning 6 million KRW. I’d like to thank all my 29 sponsors, (I know who you are!) for your support, it was a great motivation to keep on running!

Now I am wondering what would be next. The Hong Kong mountaintrail would be a little too much, but I am dreaming of finishing the New York City marathon, perhaps in 2010 / 2011. We’ll keep you updated!

Dutch Orange ball 2009

The highlight of the year for the Dutch community in Seoul would be the Dutch “Orange Ball”, held in the grand hyatt. It’s was true Dutch evening with “oranjebitter” and a Dutch band that was flown in to Seoul for the occasion.The theme of the Orange ball was “ga fietsen” meaning “take a hike on your bike”. The place was decorated with a bicycle theme. It was fun to see the foreigners dance on songs from “de havenzangers”, “Andre Hazes” and other typical dutch music covers. Perhaps the Oranje bitter got them into the mood! The food was very good, this is the desert. The lights dimmed and they served over 50 tables with this glowing ice cubes. I wonder how they managed to get these ice bricks so transparent.

Holiday in Jeju

Woman done fishing for today – Traditional Korean seafood soup is enhanced by distinctive shellfish harvested by the famous woman divers of Jeju Island. An age-old tradition, the fisher-woman of Jeju spend long hours in the waters surrounding the island relentlessly diving again and again, collecting the unique sea snails, shell fish and abalone in the bountiful waters of Jeju.

Jeju women relaxing in the sun – While looking around a small town, we had a chat with these women. They seemed to have a good laugh on their old day. Perhaps the country life isn’t so bad in Jeju?

Palm trees – Jeju has many faces, while we were taking pictures of these palmtrees at a warm evening, we climbed vulcano Hallasan the next day. The path to the top was often covered with ice, what a contradiction!

Hiking down the coastline – Many friends recommended us to hire a car or scooter on Jeju island. If you go there, I’d recommend you to go backpacking instead. Granted, it might sound clumsy and difficult, but it’s quite an experience! This picture was taking halfway a 15km hike over the vulcanic rocks of Jeju beach. There were episodes of climbing, a beautiful scenery here and there, delicious food at restaurants and more well received surprises. Jeju is a nice place to take some time to walk around!

Cheonjiyeon waterfall – This waterfalls are located in the subtropical heart of Jeju. Best enjoyed with some juicy fruit you never seen before!

North-Korea vs. South-Korea match at Mapo-gu Stadium

The national football teams of North and South Korea have played a World Cup qualifier in Seoul today – which the South won by one goal to nil. Although the game was quite boring, there was a good atmosphere in the stadium, especially after Kim Chi Woo scored the first goal for South Korea.

The crowd was not as enthusiastic as I expected, seeing the Korean football fans act crazy during their victory in 2002. Perhaps it was the staggering cold that cooled the cheering a bit. Gold medal winning figure skater Kim Na-Young appeared during half time to address and thank the audience. Check out the pictures to see how much fun we had with our boards saying “I love Kim Na-Young” and “korea victory!” Ghehe that was great fun.

Enlightment about that foggy substance in the sky

The Korean government sends text messages to all mobile phones every once in a while. This way of informing the nation is new to me and proves to be rather effective. Sometimes it’s a simple request, asking to clean your porch from snow, but today I received a warning. “Tomorrow the yellow dust from China will reach Korea”. I wondered, what is yellow dust? It turns out that yellow dust is a seasonal phenomenon related to drought. Dust clouds originating from Mongolia and northern China and Kazakhstan that get caught by the wind and get carried as far as Korea and Japan. It’s increasing every year possible because of the Aral Sea of Kazakhstan that dried up due to a failed Soviet agricultural scheme.

That finally answered my question what that substance in the sky was. Smog? Fog? No, yellow dust from China. Thank you Korean government for this enlightenment. I will be on the treadmill instead this week. Kuche Kuche. Check the difference for yourself:

The Korean Demilitarized Zone

South Korea’s military says it is preparing for the possibility that North Korea may try to provoke a naval skirmish along their disputed sea border. (december 2008, While things look calm for an expat, South and North Korea are officially still at war, because of that military service is compulsory for men. One of my Korean friends served at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) for a couple of years. He told me about the DMZ, I decided to check the buffer-zone between North and South Korea out for myself. It’s a iron curtain just like the one in Europe during the cold war.

Both sides are heavily guarded by army guards — ready to defend themselves against the enemy. The border is about 248 kilometers long, the DMZ is 4 kilometers wide. I took the liberty to send out a Tweet from North Korea, just like our minister of foreign affairs, Maxime Verhagen.
We had to go through a number of checks but South-Koreans have to register 6 months in advance to go, and are not allowed to join foreigners on this visit, so I was alone today! That second picture (field) shows the North Korean mountains, they are bald — claimed to be cut down by North Koreans for heating and cooking.

The Korean flagpole war is an interesting phenomenon, outcome is the biggest flag of the world — waving for North Korea. (picture) Two entities have such deep rooted feelings to be better then the other, that one cannot live with the fact that their flag is bigger. During the Olymics in Seoul in 1988, the South-Koreans decided to raise a big South-Korean flag in the propaganda village Daesongong. This created a counter reaction of the North Koreans to enlarge their flag size. The South Koreans didn’t like this, and decided to raise their flag to astounding height. This ‘flag war’ continued to ridiculous proportions. So today, you will find the worlds biggest flag in a no-man village in the middle of no where. While it’s hard to see on the picture, this flag is HUGE! The pole is 160 meters long! The flag has to be taken down during rain, avoiding the pole to be collapsing under the weight.

The video shows the only portion of the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) where South and North Korean forces stand face-to-face. The small blue buildings on the left is the MAC Conference Room, where talks take place between both sides. These buildings are set squarely on the Military Demarcation Line separating South and North Korea. North Korea in the back, South Korea in the front.

5:45 AM, sunrise in Gyeonju

The thermometer slowly declined down to zero degrees over the last week. We headed up to the roof to see the sunset in the clean frosty sky, I realized that this was not the first time we were going up for a view.

5:45 AM, sunrise in Gyeonju. We woke up early to see the sunrise in Gyonju, the South East of Korea. We drove our car up the mountain by dawn, feeling chased by time. Fortunately, we got there in time! The sunrise was amazing, never seen something like it!

Buddha Bumped into this fellow when I was hiking somewhere in the west. I wonder how long this statue has been here.